Musical Instruments in Regency England

When I first began reading Jane Austen’s and Georgette Heyer’s novels, the pianoforte seemed to be the musical instrument of choice for every Regency era heroine.

Portrait of Geneviève Aimée Victoire Bertin by Francois-Xavier Fabre

Jane Austen often equated a woman’s ability on the pianoforte to her overall value to society as an “accomplished woman.” In her novel Pride and Prejudice here’s how Caroline Bingley described Miss Georgiana Darcy:

The harp was another instrument mentioned in Austen’s novels, but with much less frequency; once again, Caroline Bingley mentioned the harp in regard to Georgiana Darcy:

“I am delighted to hear of her improvement on the harp.”

Author Georgette Heyer, who wrote her novels set during the Regency over one hundred years after Austen, also wrote about female characters who played the pianoforte. She also mentioned harps in her stories but usually for comic value, such as when a male character complained about a woman “twanging” away at a harp.

In recent years I’ve come to learn that there was another musical instrument that was just as popular—if not more so—than the pianoforte and the twanging harp: The guitar.

Lady with a Guitar, by Francois Xavier Fabre

I’ve found quite a few portraits of people—women and men—who lived during the Regency era and were memorialized with a guitar.

I find this so interesting, mainly because I always associated guitars with twentieth century America. Say the word guitar and I think of a cowboy strumming “Home on the Range” while sitting with his fellow cowpokes around a campfire. I never really thought of the guitar being prevalent in the early nineteenth century, and I certainly never thought of it being English.

Young Woman Playing Guitar, by Adele Romany.

Another instrument that’s often featured in portraits of the time is the lyre. Unlike the guitar, the lyre makes sense to me, given that a majority of the early Regency years were influenced by Greek symbols and stylings.

Portrait of Hortense Bonaparte, by Fleury-Francois Richard (1815)

In this post I’ve shared a few examples of portraits I found, but I’ve collected even more examples on one of my Pinterest boards, and I’d love to have you take a look!

Click here to visit my new Pinterest board, “Musical Instruments in the Regency.” I hope you enjoy it; and be sure to subscribe to the board so you’ll be notified when I add new images. I’m pretty certain I’m going to be posting some more images of guitars and lyres and pianofortes. And who knows? Maybe I’ll come across some other surprising musical instruments to share with you!

 

A Place of Comfort and Rest

I consider myself a pretty lucky person. I have a wonderful family, great friends, enough home improvements projects on my list of things to do to keep me out of trouble, and a job I love.

Still, there are times when life gets a little crazy; and sometimes it seems like there’s a lot of commotion and noise in the world that’s unsettling and troublesome.

Every once in a while I have to tune out all that noise and find my own way to bring balance back into my life.

Portrait of a Lady at a Pianoforte Holding a Manuscript, by Adele Romany.

For Mary Bennet, in my novel Mary and the Captain, her way of coping when things looked dark was to play the pianoforte. Playing music was the one satisfying outlet she had for expressing her emotions when things went wrong.

Were Mary alone she would have given vent to her feelings with crashing chords in a storm of correct and incorrect notes; but despite her heightened emotions, she had enough mastery of herself to know that she could not play the beautiful pianoforte at Netherfield as she was used to playing her old spinet at Longbourn. She was compelled to play with restraint, yet she still found solace in her music. Soon she began to feel better and her music softened in turn.

My method for drowning out the noise and bad news in the world is much different from Mary Bennet’s.

I take a break. I unplug for a day or two—no television, no social media, and, most importantly, no political ads!

That’s what I did last week; and I have to say, it’s surprising how much less stress I feel by simply “getting away from it all” and spending some quiet time with family, friends, and a couple of books.

What about you? Is there a place you escape to in order to shut out the world’s noise? A place of quiet and peace where you can hear yourself think? Or is there an activity—like Mary’s piano playing—that calms you and helps you feel centered?

I hope you’ll leave a comment and let me know how you cope when technology, world events, and life in general get to be a little too much.

And if you’re interested in learning more about my Jane Austen inspired novel Mary and the Captain, just click on the book cover.